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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Battling Blood-Thirsty Ticks With… Grapefruit!?

Grapefruit is fun to eat and nutritious. But it’s also useful. Many foods and beverages, as well as perfumes and shampoos, contain nootkatone, an oil from grapefruit peels that gives off a clean, citrusy smell and taste.

Now, nootkatone may help ticks that spread Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is spread to people and animals by the bite of the blacklegged tick. Individuals infected with the disease may notice a bulls-eye rash around the area where the tick bit them. They may also feel feverish or tired or experience headaches among other symptoms.

But it could be payback time.

Entomologists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) are testing a nootkatone spray that kills the tick’s tiniest stage--the nymphs. Their small size allows them to feed longer undetected. Unfortunately, this means they’re more likely than full-grown ticks to infect their victim with Lyme disease.

Bob Behle (ARS) and Kirby Stafford (CAES) were asked to study nootkatone as an environmentally friendly tick control by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The problem with nootkatone is that it breaks down when exposed to sunlight. The researchers tackled the problem by coating nootkatone with lignin. In nature, lignin acts as a kind of glue that holds plant cell walls together. In this case, it helps nootkatone last longer.

Some homeowners dislike spraying insecticides to kill ticks that spread Lyme disease. But someday, they may be able to “go green” instead, using nootkatone.

Jan Suszkiw, Agricultural Research Service, Information Staff

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Last Modified: 8/12/2016
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